They don’t say it in schools in Ontario anymore, of course, but in the day, they did, we all did, day after day, year after year, right alongside the playing of God Save the Queen, the prayer that is The Prayer, the one that is called the Lord’s Prayer.
By the time I finished my public school career, I said, or at least listened to that prayer about 1,800 times, often enough, I suppose, with a yawn and the taste of breakfast still in my mouth; nevertheless, it was there, somewhere, between the ears, as they say, maybe waiting for a moment called now.
“When you want to pray, pray like this,” is how he prefaced it, because he knew that even the lukewarm and weak-kneed and feeble still pray – Aunt Helen is having heart surgery next week and we find ourselves saying something; or we’re fearful of losing our job with the next round of cuts and we quietly pray for protection; or, in the least, we pray for sunshine because we’re supposed to get to the beach and it’s rained three weekends in a row now.
And then he started, “Our Father in heaven.”
You’d think if he really was the Lord, he’d have known the problem with this opening. One is that the very notion of father is painful for many people and that would have been as true in the ancient world as it is today. If God is my father, then I’ll pass, thanks.
The other problem is that if God is male, then, where does that put half of the human race in terms of their dissimilarity to “him?”
On the other hand, maybe we’re sitting a too far away from the original. Maybe the Lord was getting at something else. Maybe “father” isn’t the best translation from the original Greek, not as good as “Abba”, our “Daddy,” a being much more intimately concerned with us than any earthly father could be.
And if we’re created male and female, both in this Creator’s image, then God is neither gender or, somehow, the essence of both. And maybe heaven isn’t so much way out there in outer space, not just some other reality, but simply another dimension of this one.
Maybe this Daddy is right here, right now, in the very air in which we breathe and move and have our being.
I’m in the chapel. I listen. I think about it.
It’s Day One of a Five Day Father-Daughter Retreat with my oldest. We’re in the Muskokas, the same place I brought my son last summer.
Liz is in the Muskoka Room, under the dining hall, receiving her own message with children her age.
Earlier she jumped off the high platform into the lake, screaming in the delight on the way down. This, after tubing – her first time in a solo tube– with more laughter. Tomorrow she will put on waterskis for the first time.
And in my heart I say just in a small way what that other Daddy must say.
“I believe in you.”
“You can do it.”
“I love you.”
“I am here.”